By Mike Henle
On Dec. 6, 1994, my life changed dramatically one day after our family traveled south to Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., so that I could undergo right temporal lobe brain surgery. At the age of 43, I had struggled with epilepsy since I was an infant after being infected with encephalitis at the age of nine months.
A mosquito carrying the virus infected me with the illness which left me in a coma for a week.
Many years later, it was determined that the encephalitis also burned the right temporal lobe of my brain. A scar caused by a high fever left me with moments of weakness and dizziness that would later be diagnosed as petit-mal seizures.
When I was 28 years-old, the petit-mal seizures were suddenly followed by what was referred to as grand-mal seizures when I’d fall to the ground and lose consciousness for several hours.
Medications such as Dilantin and Phenobarbital were prescribed to control the epilepsy, but nothing worked. A Las Vegas insurance agent named John Marxen got wind of my health issues and called me one day while I was working as a sports writer at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Marxen, who had also been affected by a seizure disorder, urged me to see Dr. Andy Aung, a top-notch neurologist at Scripps Hospital La Jolla, Calif.
Aung teamed to perform the brain surgery with neurosurgeon Dr. Thomas Waltz one day after I suffered four seizures, the last of which took place in the parking lot of Scripps.
With my family by my side just after having my blood work completed, my wife, Carmen, looked me in the eyes and said “Just think. Tomorrow you’ll be done with this, and you won’t have any more seizures.”
Truth be known, I didn’t believe those words. After nearly 40 years of experiencing seizures, the disorder had become a part of my life that I was certain I would never be able to erase.
That’s what I thought anyway. After a near-six hour surgery at Scripps, I awoke to a brutal headache that required two shots of morphine after five centimeters of the right temporal lobe was removed.
Eight days later, doctors removed 21 staples from the right side of my head before my wife pushed me in a wheelchair to a waiting car for a trip to the airport.
Upon arriving at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, we discovered that I had lost all eight of the medications needed during my recovery. Thanks to a phone call to Scripps, the prescriptions were re-filled and I continued on my way to dealing with major brain surgery.
Other than that, the only other challenges included a bout with depression and being weaned from the Phenobarbital. It took almost three years before I was officially freed of the Phenobarbital, which I had taken since I was in my teens.
When was misdiagnosed with an Arachnoid cyst in the spring of 2017, we were referred to Las Vegas neurosurgeon Dr. Stuart Kaplan, who immediately looked at the MRI from my surgery.
“You haven’t got an Arachnoid Cyst,” advised the colorful Kaplan. “Your only problem is that don’t have much brain matter in the right side of your head.”
Now in my 23rd year since the surgery at Scripps, I tend to reflect about my life on every Dec. 6.
Needless to say, I’m a very lucky man, thanks to two awesome doctors and a family that stuck by me during some very challenging times.